Why Mentor Teacher and Induction Programs Exist
Teacher recruitment and retention have become topics that nearly all school districts have been considering since March of 2020. Teachers are leaving the profession at greater rates than ever due to the pandemic’s effects, including tension and additional stress around masking, issues of social justice, and the scrutiny teachers face around the subjects they teach, and materials and curriculum used.
In addition, teachers are still earning less than other non-teaching college-educated graduates. According to The Hill, “The average weekly wages of public school teachers, adjusted for inflation, increased just $29 from 1996 to 2021.”
This information intensifies the responsibility of school leadership to ensure that they are providing the support necessary to new teachers to keep them from leaving the profession in the first years of their career.
For this reason, mentor teacher and induction programs are required by most state departments of education in the United States. We also know that as teachers remain in the profession and improve their craft, student achievement increases. For example, in Pennsylvania, teacher education program graduates must take a summative assessment and pass to earn a teaching certification. The certification awarded is temporary (Level I). Teachers have six years to earn their Level II certificate. Level II certification requires completion of a state-approved induction program to include a mentoring component for all newly employed professional educators.
The Benefits of Mentor Teacher and Induction Programs for New Teachers
The Pennsylvania Department of Education reports that educator quality is the largest single factor influencing student learning. Therefore, a high-quality new teacher induction program is an essential first step to facilitate entry into the teaching profession.
Support for new teachers increases retention rates and those who participate in comprehensive induction programs are more likely to use instructional practices to improve student achievement, assign challenging work to diverse student populations, use standards-based curriculum frameworks, and accomplish the goals of the curriculum.
Essential components of most mentor teacher and induction program require assigned mentor teachers, coaching, and opportunities for continuous growth and improvement on the part of the new teacher. The requirement for a mentor to be assigned to new teachers as part of the induction program means that there should also be some support given to mentors to ensure that they are supporting their new teachers in appropriate and meaningful ways.
When polled about what new teachers were looking forward to getting out of their new teacher mentor program, teachers reported that they needed mental and emotional support from a mentor teacher, as well as shared expertise.
They also reported needing support in the areas of classroom management, time management, and getting acclimated to their school district and building. Teacher mentor and induction programs are not just for new teachers coming directly from university to the classroom. They are also designed to support teachers who are transitioning subjects, school buildings, districts, states, countries, and types of educational institutions.
Because K-12 education in the United States is state-regulated, the state government retains autonomy for decision-making and policy. Transferring to teach in a new state can be overwhelming. Understanding new school structures such as the differences between public, non-public/private, charter, cyber charter, home-bound, and homeschool and the workings within each varies from state to state. Likewise, so do the educational service agencies that act as liaisons between state departments of education and local education agencies.
Lastly, mentor teacher and induction programs are beneficial for teachers who completed their coursework in the past to some degree. Best practices and trends in education have evolved and changed over time. The best way for teachers who have taken a break from the profession or who have not continued their professional development to learn about new resources and research is to participate in an induction program.
Being assigned a mentor who has expertise in similar content areas or grade levels, and also has historical context of the school building as a lead teacher can be one of the most influential aspects of a new teacher’s success. Most college preparatory teacher education programs require some degree of student teaching or internship experience, but it is never enough to truly prepare any pre-service teacher for the responsibility of being a classroom teacher. Mentor and induction programs help bridge that gap and support transition from theory to reality and practice.
How to Get Involved in Mentor Teacher and Induction Programs
Most school districts and local education agencies will offer a mentor teacher and induction program to newly hired teachers, either because it is a requirement or because it is a best practice. It is important to take these opportunities to participate in mentor and new teacher induction programs seriously and make time to receive the support you need as a new hire. We are always overwhelmed when we start a new job, but in the end the benefits of setting the time aside to be present during the program sessions will pay off.
Suppose your school or district does not offer a mentor or induction program. In that case, you can find lots of professional learning networks (PLNs) on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I would also encourage you to ask your local education service agency or intermediate unit to connect you with a community of practice and network that will help support you and provide opportunities for growth and development in your new profession!
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